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Plane crash suits could bankrupt, Thomson mayor says

Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 3:28 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 8:15 AM
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ATLANTA — Lawsuits stemming from a fatal plane crash in Thomson spurred a House subcommittee Monday to approve legislation giving cities the same protection from lawsuits as counties.

At the scene in Thomson after the 2013 crash  Augusta Chronicle file
Augusta Chronicle file
At the scene in Thomson after the 2013 crash

The panel also OK’d a bill to exempt payroll documents of government contractors from the state’s open records law.

The February 2013 crash of a Beechcraft airplane at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport while returning from a routine flight from Nashville took the lives of five staffers of The Vein Guys medical clinic. Their families are suing as is one of the two pilots who survived the crash. Those seven suits against the city and county are still pending and might not come to trial for years.

Thomson Mayor Ken Usry said that if any settlements or jury awards exceed the $5 million insurance coverage the city has, the results could be financially devastating for him and the city. That’s because a 20-year-old law grants the county immunity but not the city.

“The county can walk, and the balance of the lawsuit will fall on me and the city,” he said. “It can bankrupt me.”

State Rep. Barry Fleming, who sponsored House Bill 1010, led the subcommittee considering it and serves as the city attorney for several small cities. He said he wanted to make things equal for the two types of local governments. Otherwise, the Harlem Republican said, cities will be unwilling to enter into joint projects with counties if they aren’t facing equal liability.

Usry can’t benefit from HB 1010, but he said failure to pass it would indeed stop him from cooperating with the county.

“This has gotten my attention,” he said. “If I’m going to go into ventures with the county, I need a balanced playing field.”

Attorneys who represent clients suing governments told the panel that the best way to make things equal would be to remove the protections that counties enjoy.

“Public policy ought to be able to hold our cities and counties accountable for the harm they do,” said Jason Rooks, a lobbyist for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.

The subcommittee sent the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee, along with House Bill 796, to make confidential the personnel records of government contractors.

Normally, private companies doing business with the government would not be subject to the state’s Sunshine Law, but when federal funding is involved, the Truman-era labor-protection Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors to submit payroll documents to prove they are paying workers the prevailing wage for the area.

HB 796 would shield those workers from identity theft, said its sponsor, Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta. Plus, it will prevent competitors from poaching.

“If a competitor finds out what I’m paying my guy, he can pay him more and steal my guy,” said Mark Woodall, a lobbyist for Associated General Contractors.

A Trial Lawyers Association lobbyist objected to HB 796 as hindering the public from knowing exactly who is doing the work on government contracts, but the committee unanimously approved the bill.

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Sweet son
11079
Points
Sweet son 02/24/14 - 03:51 pm
10
1
One problem!

Pilot error caused the crash! Not the airport!

corgimom
36570
Points
corgimom 02/24/14 - 03:56 pm
6
1
“If a competitor finds out

“If a competitor finds out what I’m paying my guy, he can pay him more and steal my guy,” said Mark Woodall, a lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors.

Of course, a competitor could just ASK the employee how much he earns and then offer them more money. But hey, that makes too much sense.

Unbelievable
86
Points
Unbelievable 02/24/14 - 04:31 pm
10
1
Power Lines

I think the Power Lines are the property of Ga Power. The pilot trying to land too far down the runway because he came in too fast was also a leading contributor. Any lawyer worth his salt could easily end any and all lawsuits accusing the city or county of responsibility in the crash.

Why does there always have to be a big payday when someone dies in an accident? Why do they always go after whomever has the biggest pockets?

LillyfromtheMills
14019
Points
LillyfromtheMills 02/24/14 - 04:45 pm
9
1
Tis a shame

To take from this county for gain - It was an accident and the families will get their just rewards from it from the policies already in place.

nocnoc
47086
Points
nocnoc 02/24/14 - 04:56 pm
6
0
NSTB FINDINGS REPORT IS ON LINE

FROM THE NTSB PRELIM REPORT

http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20130220X11432&key=1

...
Witnesses reported that the airplane appeared to be in position to land when the pilot discontinued the approach and commenced a go-around. The witnesses observed the airplane continue down the runway at a low altitude.

The airplane struck a poured-concrete utility pole and braided wires about 59 feet above ground level. The pole was located about 1/4 mile east the departure end of runway 10. The utility pole was not lighted. During the initial impact with the utility pole, the outboard section of the left wing was severed. The airplane continued another 1/4 mile east before colliding with trees and terrain. A postcrash fire ensued and consumed a majority of the airframe. The engines separated from the fuselage during the impact sequence. On-scene examination of the wreckage revealed that all primary airframe structural components were accounted for at the accident site. The landing gear were found in the down (extended) position, and the flap handle was found in the 10-degree (go-around) position.

An initial inspection of the airport revealed that the pilot-controlled runway lights were operational. An examination of conditions recorded on an airport security camera showed that the runway lights were on the low intensity setting at the time of the accident. The airport did not have a control tower. An inspection of the runway surface did not reveal any unusual tire marks or debris.

Weather conditions at HQU near the time of the accident included calm wind and clear skies.

just an opinion
2839
Points
just an opinion 02/24/14 - 06:03 pm
11
1
Lawyer's Greed

It's all about money $$ for them. They could care less who they might bankrupt. It doesn't matter if it's a city, school or church as long as they can line their pockets.

Stunned 2
5828
Points
Stunned 2 02/24/14 - 06:34 pm
9
1
Lawyers decide to take a case - based on how many 'big pockets'

they can dip into. Realistically, I don't see how they can blame a power company's pole - that has been there for years with planes safely landing. But, from lawyers' perspectives - Georgia Power has a deep pocket to raid. Lawyers see Governmental facilities as having deep pockets. Thus, 'let's sue the airport'. It was a tragic loss of wonderful people. Their beneficiaries should have received Workmen's Compensation Death Benefits, and possible Life Insurance & Accidental-Death Insurance payments. Every day that any of us go to work - we don't know if we'll be returning home. It is so sad, that lawyers have lead grieving family members down that heartless path of greed.

bright idea
860
Points
bright idea 02/24/14 - 07:10 pm
8
1
If lawyers

had a conscience they would starve to death. This is how they make a living so we just have to accept it. This lawsuit has parties in the plane suing each other as well. Some of it will likely never be settled.

corgimom
36570
Points
corgimom 02/24/14 - 09:41 pm
1
2
I read that the Thomson

I read that the Thomson airport has a problem with deer on the runway, and there was a possibility a deer was sighted.

corgimom
36570
Points
corgimom 02/24/14 - 09:46 pm
2
7
Unbelievable, 5 people died.

Unbelievable, 5 people died. 5 families will never be the same. A business lost a major key officer, one that was responsible for a significant portion of revenue.

This wasn't an act of God, SOMETHING happened. Usually in things like this, there is more than one problem involved.

Many times these lawsuits are due to the way insurance policies are written, fault has to be determined to decide whose insurance pays.

But since Ken Usry is concerned about bankruptcy, that tells me that he thinks the city is going to found liable- probably for not having a light on that pole. Nobody can see a pole at night.

Bodhisattva
6826
Points
Bodhisattva 02/25/14 - 04:47 am
1
2
Just curious

If doctors ever win their almost nonstop lobbying battle for us to lose our rights to sue for damages when malpractice is committed, will they lose their rights to bring lawsuits and seek damages against others? Are the laws going to be written where the whole thing is just going to be a one way street? My money is on the second of the two options. This was a horrible tragegy, but in both cases, neither party should be given an out if at fault.

fatherinevans
240
Points
fatherinevans 02/25/14 - 07:30 am
2
9
Sounds like a guilty cry for help

This city is crying for help when they know they messed up. This must be an ongoing problem with this pole and its position at the airport or the city wouldnt be so worried. They should of corrected it long ago from what it sounds like. If this is the case then bankrupt them and hopefully they will do things right going into the future. RIP!!

Marinerman1
5284
Points
Marinerman1 02/25/14 - 09:02 am
3
0
What Is The Statute ??

As people have stated, the pole has been there for awhile. Up until now, it apparently has not been a problem. I'm sure it is labeled on the flight map for the airport. I have never flown into the Thompson airport. But many others have, without issue. To put the "pole" issue to rest, I wonder what the statute is for pole height requiring a beacon light. I know that overhead cranes have to be lighted, but I don't know what height requires a light. It still sounds to me like the pilot came in too hot, and did not complete an aggressive go-around.

JB68
283
Points
JB68 02/25/14 - 09:05 am
3
0
Guilty cry for help???

Georgia Power is being sued about the pole. The city and county are being sued about trees allegedly planted in the airport "safe zone". Also being sued are the pilot who owned the plane and the widow of Dr. Roth. Basically they are suing everyone possible hoping something will stick.

The mayor is concerned because the city unlike the county has no immunity and juries are unpredictable.

Marinerman1
5284
Points
Marinerman1 02/25/14 - 09:39 am
5
1
200 Feet in Height

Okay, found it...http://www.airweb.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgAdvisoryCircular.nsf/0/b993dcdfc37fcdc486257251005c4e21/$FILE/AC70_7460_1K.pdf The FAA regulation says 200 feet in height. It also states that an FAA review might require lighting on shorter items. The question to be asked now is whether there was an FAA review done, during the power pole installation. I'm agreeing with most here -- ambulance chasing, blood-sucking, lawyers. There should be enough insurance to suffice. Blood money will not bring a single one back.

karradur
2875
Points
karradur 02/25/14 - 10:13 am
0
2
Apologies to the Toynbee tiles.

VEIN GUYS IDEA
IN PLANE CRASH
RESURRECT DEAD
WITH MANY LAWSUITS

itsanotherday1
46852
Points
itsanotherday1 02/25/14 - 10:14 am
3
1
Put lawyer blame where it belongs

Of the 1.2 million lawyers in the USA, 25,000 are members of the nation's largest trial lawyers association. I'm sure there are many ambulance chasers who are not members; but this gives you a feel of how many blood suckers there are vs other attorneys who are doing corporate, wills, family law, etc.

itsanotherday1
46852
Points
itsanotherday1 02/25/14 - 10:18 am
3
1
"Why does there always have

"Why does there always have to be a big payday when someone dies in an accident? Why do they always go after whomever has the biggest pockets?"

Well, doncha know; nowadays when something bad happens to you, SOMEBODY GOTTA PAY! That is why defense attorneys do their best to get the most ignorant juries they can.

Gothamist
26
Points
Gothamist 02/25/14 - 10:50 am
1
3
Stop Hating

A friend once told me that everyone hates lawyers until YOU need one.

Multiple factors contributed to this event. Y'all may not like it, but Lawyers the majority of the time do great work and correct deficiencies like in this event by eventually getting a pole(s) moved, burying the wires, installing more lights, and reviewing/critiquing annually airport safety operations....etc. Complacency and ignorance eventually has a price tag.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
10203
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 02/25/14 - 11:00 am
5
1
Hmmm Public Dole Lawsuit

Who wants to join me in a lawsuit of all the parents of the second and third generation making a career of the public dole.. It seems to me that these people committed a malpractice and malfeasance in not teaching their children to get a job and work for a living rather than mooching off the taxpaying public as a career! Now, since all the Democrats in Congress and our President are advocating adding more to these roles, shouldn't we also include them in the class action suit?

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
10203
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 02/25/14 - 11:03 am
6
1
Gothamist

Those poles and lines have been in place for thousands of takeoffs and landings at that airport. It boils down to pilot error. That was the regular airport used by that pilot and that plane for almost all flights. Not knowing it was there won't wash.....

gsamanta
5
Points
gsamanta 02/25/14 - 12:34 pm
3
1
Thank you

ColdBeer for what you said. As a Thomsonian, and wife of a McDuffie County firefighter who worked this tragic accident, I will not say that our county/city is perfect. It has its problems like any other. However, as stated before, that power pole has been there longer than I've been alive I believe and this is the first major accident like this that has happened. And from what I have understood, it was indeed pilot error, which of course, will be determined after further investigation. There were indeed eye witnesses that saw the accident and the pilot came down too late and had to go back up. Bankrupting the city will not bring these precious souls back. It is not the city's fault this happened. And our mayor is worried because he's preparing for the worst case scenario because we never know how these cases will go. Are there not innocent people in prison? Think about it. With all that being said, my prayers and thoughts still go to those lost and their families as I know they will have a hard time years to come in dealing with this, especially since it will stay in the media I'm sure for years on end.

jimmymac
45494
Points
jimmymac 02/25/14 - 03:58 pm
1
0
LAWSUITS
Unpublished

Americans love lawsuits. We file more of them than the rest of the world combined. Due to ignorant decisions even the most ridiculous lawsuits often win huge sums. People committing crimes suing because they were injured while doing the crime and actually winning money Lawyers know that no matter how stupid, many companies will settle because it's cheaper than going to trial. I was sued when I stopped due to traffic on a freeway and was rear ended by a gal not paying attention. She and her lawyer claimed negligence on my part because I stopped too fast. Never mind the fact that if she'd been paying attention she would have been able to stop without hitting me. She filed the suit a week before the two year limit on lawsuits expired and it cost me several thousand dollars to fight it. Which we altimately did even though her lawyer offered a settlement to me before trial. I could have probably sued her by I'm just not that way. I guess that just makes me a sap!

JC597
22
Points
JC597 03/03/14 - 10:44 am
0
0
Several folks above have

Several folks above have stated that "there should be enough insurance" to pay for this and that the folks bringing the lawsuits and their lawyers are greedy. This is an uninformed position to take. Oftentimes, in order to recover money under an insurance policy, you have to file a lawsuit. For instance, if the pilots of the plane carried liability insurance (which they undoubtedly did), their insurance company may be pointing the finger at the city/county for their alleged negligence. Likewise, the city/county (and the city's insurer, if any) are certainly pointing the finger at the pilots. Both the pilots' insurer(s) and the city's insurer (if any) are probably pointing the finger at Georgia Power for the pole. If this is the case, the civil fact-finding process of a lawsuit is the only tool available to settle these disputes.

To make it worse, in 2005 the Georgia Legislature passed a law that allows a defendant in a civil lawsuit, such as this, to file a "Notice of Apportionment" to lay blame upon a person or entity who has NOT been made a party to a lawsuit. So, if the families and their lawyers do not include all possible responsible parties, the other defendants will be allowed to point the finger at someone who has NOT been included in the suit and they can ask the jury to apportion a percentage of fault to that person or entity. This requires lawyers to include ALL possible defendants or else this "apportionment" tool may be used against you at trial.

Here's the other thing - I don't feel sorry for this Mayor at all. If you are the mayor of a city that is responsible for an airport, you purchase a significant amount of liability insurance for this exact type of event. That way, nobody faces bankruptcy when a plane full of medical professionals (with significant future life values) dies in a plane crash at your airport.

Let's be real here - providing blanket immunity for cities to isolate them from ANY lawsuit is a terrible idea. Doing so only gives them a free pass to make bad decisions, to create dangerous situations, to allow dangerous situations to exist, and to cause harm to others with no accountability.

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